Thursday

yoloOn Thursday night I had a session with some young people who were aged 11-15. I encouraged the group to draw pictures of things they thought were ‘cool’, and 12 yr old Max drew the above.

I also asked the group what words they think are ‘cool’ and important, and they decided that COURAGE was the most important word, followed by TRUTH, INSPIRE, and PERSPIRATION (Apparently without perspiration you cannot get to where you want to be in life).

Feeling pretty overwhelmed by this still, these young people are our future leaders. This is the most exciting thing ever!

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Why I love MCR

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with my city. This is because I have been to some places in the world that have caused far more dramatic emotional responses in me. However, this is my city and I am proud of it, and most of the time I love it. Here are a few little things that are important to me about my city.

Things I love about Manchester –

  • When you get the Altrincham tram from the centre of Manchester, keep your eyes out when you’ve left Cornbrook and the next top is Trafford Bar. If you face the direction the train is going in, look to your right. Alongside the canal below there is a long, long wall that is covered in bright, beautiful graffiti. The kind that is meant to be there. And behind that wall if you look hard enough you will see a yard where they store yellow and red cranes (you know, the ones window cleaners use). But when they are all together in a big bunch they look amazing, like an enormous crazy rollercoaster ride. When you see the crane yard if you look down right next to the tram tracks almost below you, then you can look right into a scrap car yard. Nothing special you think? But I love it, because they pile the cars higher than I’ve ever seen, all crushed into these matchbox shapes. It’s almost magical in it’s crazy, junky mismatch. It always reminds me of the film Wall-E, and I can almost see the little robot wheeling about organising it all.
  • The gargoyles on the water fountain outside the front of the Town Hall (and to the right a bit). These have gone an emerald green over the years the way many old statues do. If the wind takes a sudden turn then the fountain can completely drench you head to toe if you’re standing in the wrong place. this always makes me smile.
  • Halfway down King Street (head towards Deansgate) turn left into the tiny hidden alleyway halfway down the street, walk halfway down it and look up at the concrete umbrellas above your head.
  • St Ann’s Church – specifically the tray of candles towards the front left of the Church. The one on the bottom right hand corner? That’s where my candle always goes.
  • The pedestrian bridge that goes over Mancunian way. If it’s windy and there’s loads of heavy traffic underneath then if stop when you get to the middle of the bridge as it wobbles and feels really unsteady. You can see through to the cars below through the gaps below your feet, like being on a pier by the sea, but instead of the ocean it’s cars and pollution. You feel like the Queen of Industrialisation!
  • The demolition equipment they’re using to destroy the BBC on Oxford Road. When you get to Sainsbury’s on the junction of Whitworth Street and Oxford Street if you look towards the BBC one of the big pieces of equipment they use looks like the mast on a pirate ship. You can imagine that actually there is a pirate invasion of Manchester, hurrah!
  • The pub I live above. The super low ceilings of the cellar downstairs, the way I can navigate my way out at 6am on my way to work in the pitch black just by knowing how many steps it takes to get around the place and how high the door handles are. The shape of the different glasses, and the way it feels to sit in one of the high chairs (with footrest, obviously.) Even the annoyinginy pillar with the jukebox on that is always in the way.
  • The design on the front of the Palace Hotel. Above one of the windows (the one to the left of the main entrance) there is a design that looks like a garland of flowers which hangs over a round window with green frames. At the centre of this design above the window, the flowers are arranged in a way that by day looks like the centrepiece of the design. But at night when the up-lighting comes on the shadows catch it in a certain way that makes it look like Jack Skeleton from Tim Burton’s film Corpse Bride. When I sit on my sofa and look out of my living room window, it looks like Jack Skeleton is smiling back at me.
  • The underground canals underneath the GMEX. I used to work as an actress with Flecky Bennett and we used to go 60 foot underneath the centre of Manchester and take people on a tour that was a mix of performance and history.  There were many times I was down there that I would need to find my way around the tunnels in the pitch black (and I mean pitch black – it’s very rare that you get real unfathomable bottomless dark in the city as there’s always a street lamp or a car headlight etc) and after a while I got familiar with the layout of the tunnels. I knew where the missing bricks were, where the high steps were and the doorways cut into the brick walls. I always felt a weird sense of contentment down there in those tunnels, respectful of those who had lived and died down there when they were air-raid shelters in the war, and a happy sense of the present, past and future all being tied in together.

So I reckon that if you live in Manchester and you’re walking about the place you should definitely keep an eye out for these things, and see if they make you feel the way they make me feel. And even if they don’t make you feel that way, it would be amazing to know what response you have to them. This world we live in is insanely beautiful and I love the emotional reaction and affinity you can have with personality-less objects and buildings.

Manchester Riots

In August 2011 I was a a participant on a project run by Blue Sky youth organisation in Macedonia, called ‘The Road to Gender Equality’, which explored issues of gender affecting those in the EU, and there were other participants from Macedonia, Albania, and Holland. I spent a week learning, laughing, loving talking about my nationality and culture and what it means to me.

On the train home from Luton Airport on Tuesday late afternoon, we got word via mobiles/mobile internet that the rioting had spread and Manchester, my city, was about to suffer. I live very centrally in Manchester, so arrived back very concerned and scared.

Throughout that fateful eveing we saw many people, mostly young, on bikes come past outside, hoods over their heads and weapons/stolen items in their hands. The huge music shop Dawsons in Piccadilly Gardens (the dead centre of Manchester) had been smashed in and items stolen, and we watched many young people pass our pub holding guitars as well as stolen alcohol, clothes and shoes etc.

At one point, the riot was pushing right past our front door by mounted police, which was really scary for me, however I felt protected as there were some big tough people in my home and nearby ready to defend themselves! I was definitely concerned for the safety of my home at various points that night, and I have never felt in that way before.

The next morning I woke early after a bad nights sleep, and made it to the centre of Manchester by 8:30am wearing a tshirt and hoodie from Youth Discovery Ventures, and armed with a dustpan and brush, and my facepaints! While I was on the Momentum Leadership Course a few weeks ago I discovered my ability and enthusiasm for using facepaint as a way of connecting with people, so I saw an opportunity to see if it worked.

I looked around my city and cried at what I saw.

I felt a strong sense of loyalty for not only my Manchester but also my country against what I would describe as an internal threat. I walked around the city and cleared up a bit of glass, however Manchester City Council had been amazing during the night and managed to sweep away most mess from the streets. Shop workers were dazed and crying in their shops, trying to make sense of their half stolen stock, their broken windows, their damaged property.

Throughout that day I estimate that I painted over 75 faces, with messages such as ‘I LOVE MCR’, English flags and other symbols of pride, and to almost every person I painted I spoke about the sadness of what had happened, but also the amazing morale and community spirit that was crackling in the air. My intention was to remind people that these young people rioting were a minority, and many more young people were present during the day with brooms and rubbish bags to help clean up. I refused to paint any negative or confrontational messages even though I was asked a few times.

I’m no matyr, and I’m not writing this to boast or to seek approval or praise. I was among almost 1,000 other citizens who turned up for the same reason, to try and claw back our city.

In light of these events, it’s more important than ever to be proud of your city, your country, or even other people in the world making a stand for all that is right. There are so many news reports on tv, in newspapers etc at the moment focusing on the negativity of this generation we are losing to disillusionment, laziness and greed, so I wrote this article as positive force to counteract this. I’m now reposting this on Casting a Hero, because it is still as important and relevant now as it is then.

Youth Discovery Ventures, the organisation I am a Director of, is all about creating, learning, understanding and growing, and it’s a cause I believe in. We need more organisations to get involved in positively tackling the issues that affect young people or things are very bleak for the future of our communities. I feel too unequipped and unresearched to comment on the influence other complicated issues such as criminal justice, discipline, and poverty has had on recent events, but I think these are also important factors to consider in an attempt to understand – not excuse, what has happened, and to learn from it.

In my opinion, people are inherently good, but there are various reasons that cause them to do things that are not so good. We need provision for young people in deprived areas. We need focus on bringing citizenship, access to work and lifeskills into the curriculum in a innovative and interactive way. We need faith and respect in our young generation as they are the leaders of the future, and we will one day be putting not only our future, but the entire future of humanity in their hands. This shouldn’t be scary, this should be exciting. The only way we can do this is through being less apathetic and finding out what part we can play, however big, in making our world more beautiful.

What do you think?

Today

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Today I woke up at the alarm at 6:30am. I roll over and spoon his sleeping form, smiling a secret smile. The room is stuffy and uneasy, too hot with the heating on, so I roll back over and switch the lamp on before I fall asleep again. I shower in my usual routine and am back in our room in under 8 minutes. I moisturise, blow dry and straighten my fringe, apply make-up in deft swipes and look out of the window. I go into the kitchen, hold my breath and drink a bottle of activia. I leave the flat, go down the fire escape and walk to work.

I move through the city and notice the pavements, glistening with dewy rain. Everything is grey. Charcoal, achromatic, monochrome.

I squint and it looks almost sparkly. I see at the builders, waiting on the wall outside the library. They meet there at 7:30am each day and talk Polish and smoke cigarettes and don’t look at me twice when I walk past. I wonder if they’d look at me if I wasn’t wearing my oversized coat. I walk past Groom and look at the wedding suits in the window. I walk down the alleyway and feel content knowing I’m about to see My Church. I overtake a slow walking man with an umbrella and the secret smile appears again . I win the race.

I arrive at work, and by the time I finish I have a hard tight knot between my shoulder blades.

But when I leave the air is crisp as it has been raining again. The wind tastes amazing. I put my headphones in and listen to Bruce Springsteen. The way he sings makes a picture of my head that looks a bit like the West Side Story film looks. I put my head down and march until my calves feel hot.

I get home and run up the stairs as fast as I can, my heartbeat quickening and my bag pulling my right shoulder down slightly. I leave my bag on the kitchen table, kick off my shoes, and glide into the living room.

I’ve had a love affair with the streets of my city, my footsteps beating out its pulse, the heartbeat of water gushing through gutters and swirling happily down drains. And as my other love envelops me in his big gentle arms, I smile my secret smile because tomorrow I can do it all over again.